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Half a Life

(Willie Chandran #1)

3.25  ·  Rating details ·  3,687 ratings  ·  378 reviews
In a narrative that moves with dreamlike swiftness from India to England to Africa, Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul has produced his finest novel to date, a bleakly resonant study of the fraudulent bargains that make up an identity.

The son of a Brahmin ascetic and his lower-caste wife, Willie Chandran grows up sensing the hollowness at the core of his father's self-denial and
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 23rd 2009 by Vintage International (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.25  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,687 ratings  ·  378 reviews

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Jul 26, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Naipaul fans
It does what it does well and not much else. Not a great way to explain it but if you read it you will understand. We follow the exceptionally uneventful life of Willie as he tries to discover himself and find a path to walk down. I found him to be spineless and became quite bored watching him float through life being led by his lust most of the time like so many male characters in so many other(better written) books. But then, the language reflects his life, nothing much exciting going on. Havi ...more
May 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
I checked out the two books of this series, this the first and then Magic Seeds. I have read a small portion of the second and will be returning both books to the library for someone else to read.
Overall weirdness - something I like to sample but not when it just does not gel for me. He moves around in the first one: India, London, Africa. Apparently the second book takes him back to Great Britain. starts in Berlin? His sister Sarojini asks him where he wants to go next since his 6-mont
Samir Rawas Sarayji
Oh so much telling... so very much. I started out invested in the story and in Willie and half-way through I felt life was too short to read this in detail. Half a Life indeed. I didn’t want to leave it so I skimmed through the long boring historical narratives to where Willie reminisced about his interactions with others. I was interested in him but the memoir-like execution did not serve the story at all.

It’s funny that at the start, with all the literary references of a post-modern novel, Wil
Aug 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
Quite unremarkable. I haven’t read anything else by Naipaul, and I probably won’t. I know I shouldn’t generalize from reading one book, but I do anyway. Methinks Naipaul is another mediocre Nobel laureate. (Jelinek and Mahfouz are the other examples that come immediately to my mind.) The protagonist is insufferably unlikable, boring, and passive. (At least Jelinek has a sick imagination and manages to make you hate her monstrous characters.) As for the writing – honestly, I think you’ll find bet ...more
Vikas Singh
Oct 03, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is second book by Naipaul that I have read and found it a third rate, depressing book written by somebody drunk on his success. I started reading him looking at his great literary awards but after reading Guerrillas and now this, I have decided to put a stop to this. The plot is all over the place , there is nothing that can hold reader's attention . Too much emphasis on sexual impotence and later sexual discovery by the protagonist is a huge distraction which does little to build the plot. ...more
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Half a Life, published a decade ago, is another one of Naipaul's spare, brooding tales that focuses on the lack of identity--cultural identity, really--that characterizes modern life. The novel begins with a kind of joke. Willie Chandran was so named for W. Somerset Maughm who once met Willie's confused father, a silent holy man in India. This brought Willie no luck, however. Maughm wrote about the father, but he never expressed interest in helping Willie, not even when Willie showed up in Londo ...more
Apr 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is an unusual novel. There's no actual plot; instead, the story follows a man through his restless, aimless life. I know this doesn't sound very compelling, but it is--his desire for more--to figure out where he belongs and what he should be doing to create meaning in his life--is crushing.

The structure cleverly echoes this vacancy. After following the character closely for 120 pages, you suddenly encounter this terrifying line: "He stayed for eighteen years." And then the narrativ
Jan 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Half a Good Book...
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Great novelists need alter egos to rationalize their lives. Updike had Rabbit, Roth had Zuckerman, and Naipaul has Willie Chandran.

This novel, the first of two Willie Chandran books cover’s the protagonists life until his early forties. It’s a novel about displacement and the quest to belong. Willie’s great grandfather left the protection of the temple to seek his life in the big city, a migration that was transformative, for he rose to prominence as a scribe in the employ of the maharajah of hi
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Sadly I wasn't impressed.

Well.. I don't really say "Meh" but it is fitting so it will be used here.
This is the last book to complete my reading challenge for 2014 and I had hoped to finish out with a bang of a book. This is not it. I picked it because I was curious and I also thought it might be a quick read. Quick, yes. Curious? I was at first. I was flying through. Have you ever read that book that is a page turner until maybe the halfway point and then it takes a turn for the w
May 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
naipaul is BRUTUAL! many people are critical of his unsympathetic and even accusatory attitude towards citizens of undeveloped countries... but he's got something valid to say and it's worth hearing. this semi-autobiographical work explains how one can be both vulnerable and responsible. in other words, power is not only to be claimed by the wealthy. it's up for grabs.
Bethany Saunders
Aug 12, 2020 rated it liked it
This novel charting the life and losses of the central character - Willie - tells an interesting and in-depth tale of a young man caught between worlds. It charts a half-life. Born of a Brahmin and low caste mother (who is painfully ridiculed by Willie's father in the first part of the book), Willie spends the novel seeking a way to find himself and - presumably - find a sense of purpose and wholeness he believes his father discarded in favour of a pitiable idleness.

Willie attempts to find hims
I know VS Naipaul is one of the most highly regarded authors of the 20th century and that he won a Nobel Prize for literature. I had read his book, "A Bend in the River", also about Colonial Africa and found it extraordinary and memorable.... This one even more so.

This is a deeply affecting, fictional (apparently semi-autobiographical) narrative about an Indian man who cannot find himself. Having been raised in the conflicted world of a hindu father who intentionally wed a very very low caste wo
Dec 03, 2012 rated it liked it
When NY Times reviewer John Chamberlain panned Green Hills of Africa he noted the dialogue, so poetically functional in Hemingway's other major works, was simplified almost to a style of self parody. Instead of being employed as a tool to develop the international cast of characters, everyone from an illiterate local gun bearers to a cosmopolitan German fanboy talks like an imitation of the hero from "A Farewell to Arms."

Half a Life, is similarly pared away. You have the features of a V.S. Naip
David Lentz
Jun 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this novel as the search for and acceptance of the essence of one's true identity. This is a quest upon which Naipaul himself, no doubt, embarked, after his birth in Trinidad, education in England at Oxford, and life in Africa. The challenge of his protagonist is, having been born a "backwards", to understand and accept his real essence as a human being. He tends to approach this existential task by entangling himself in the lives of other people only to find that their lives bring him no ...more
Sairam Krishnan
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, wow!

There are ways stories can be told, and there are ways they can be crafted, and there are ways they can be read. Naipaul makes each one of these processes seem so easy.

Half a Life is a strange book, and its undercurrents are its story. Naipaul gives us a story of a man who lets his life lead him across three continents and 40 years before realizing he hasn't really lived the life he wants to live; in effect, he has lived half a life.

There is this quality to Naipaulian prose; reading hi
Tanya Hayes
Feb 02, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was very disappointed with this book - for such a short book that would normally take me less than a day to read, it has taken me almost a month to finish. I found myself so bored and irrated with the characters and the plot that I kept putting the book down with annoyance.

Having endured his father's story at the start of the book I hoped that his son's story and the rest of the book would get more interesting and enjoyable... unfortunately it was even more painfully boring pointless. I usual
Eve Kay
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What strange, unrelatable story. I enjoyed most other characters except the main one.
I didn't get what it was about? Life? It did make me wonder what it was about, so that's good...right?
Reading other reviews here makes me feel a little better about myself, I'm not that dumb. Apparently there's a sequel. I don't want to know.
Oh, and the writing: It's very, very, blunt. Feels unemotional and distant. It doesn't flow.
Naipaul can be writing about person A on a Monday, switch to person B for abo
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
About 50 pages into this one, I realized I didn't really like it much. Hoping it would get better (after all, it did win a Nobel for literature), I forced myself to plow on. Sadly, it was all but impossible for me to enjoy the story of this insufferably spineless protagonist and his exceptionally uneventful life.
Seema Dubey
Feb 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
I resisted reading Naipaul for a long time, not having the desire to read a writer with a warped sense of what India is and who Indians are. Finding the bias ridiculous that w/o reading I would not know if Naipaul thumbs his nose at India. So, my 1st and hopefully the last unless caught one day with nothing better to do but read a book by VS Naipaul.

Reading is easy, though boring. Its story of an Indian boy who goes from South India to London and then ends up somewhere in Africa. Naipaul paints
In this book, Naipaul displays his talent for portraying genuine characters and getting us to sincerely sympathize with them, and thus suffer with them as a consequence of their weakness. The sickness of family, social, national, ethnic, and cultural relationships are all on display, and no one is spared from the low-simmering misery and spiritual oppression that appears to be the universal human condition, at least as perceived from the subjective view of the protagonist. But he wouldn't put it ...more
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
Contrary to all that hype about how amazing the book was, I found it okay. It is a story about an Indian man whose father marries a low caste woman and as a result is ostracized from the society. As the father tells the story about how he married a low caste woman as a sign of sacrifice, young Willie, the son listens to him with great distaste and gradually begins to hate him. As the story unfolds, Naipaul tells us how Willie goes to England and later at Africa.
The story progresses fast and is
Oct 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
This didn't make much of an impression on me –I expected more. The most compelling bit is the story of Willie’s father, not so much of Willie himself. Willie’s father is a man who goes along with the flow of things because he is remarkably mediocre, below average perhaps. Trying to break the tedium and prove himself worthy, he makes a ‘noble’ decision to marry outside his caste, a decision which turns out to be all talk and no substance because he isn’t able to, nor does he genuinely try to, rid ...more
Jun 15, 2009 rated it liked it

A title recommended and passed on to me by my daughter recently. I read it in one afternoon session sitting in the shade in the garden.
As a little boy Willie Chandran wanted to know why his middle name was Somerset. His father explains that it was after the famous British writer Somerset Maugham. Willie of course wants to know why. This is the story that his father gradually tells him, of a son whom possibly should never have been born, while he is growin
Jerry Pogan
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A plotless but enjoyable read. The story follows the life of a very unambitious young man who leaves his home in India to go to England for college where he makes little effort to excel. He writes a book of short stories that leads to his meeting a young woman from Africa. Since he has no ambition he decides to go to Africa with the woman after college because he doesn't know what else he can do. The story is very lackadaisical but Naipaul's writing makes it a good read.
Feb 19, 2010 rated it did not like it
The characters never touched me, the scenery was never vivid, nobody in the book did anything interesting or learned anything about themselves or the world around them - but hey; it won a Pulitzer - so what do I know? I guess I'm just not sophisticated enough of a reader for this book....
MJ Sasse
May 03, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was not my favorite, but it is also not even near being one of the worst books I've read. I just had a very hard time staying awake while reading this book (I actually missed two nights of tracking because I fell asleep while reading) due to its relatively dry subject matter and tediously paced plot. Thus, as you can probably derive from my previous statements, this book was a pretty slow read for me and what would've normally taken me 20 minutes to read, took me 40. I was just constan ...more
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This had been on my To Read List for quite a while. I found it engrossing. His incredible writing has earned him a Nobel Prize and I'd read this was part autobio/history/fiction. It's definitely an eye-opening story about Imperialism and the caste system and one man's coming-of-age.
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
Sometime in the late 90s Sir Vidia declared that the novel as we know it is dead. It has been supplanted by other forms of entertainment. And soon after he comes out with ‘Half a Life’. 
As someone who has admired his works. I was swept by the grace and simple beauty of ‘A House for Mr Biswas’. I was overwhelmed by the journey that I undertook with him in Among the believer and Beyond Belief. The Indian trilogy has shocked and enlightened me in equal measure. I did provide me with an alternative
Kathryn Berla
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it
One of the few Naipaul books I hadn't read so I was curious. The main character was pretty unlikeable. Extremely self-centered and disloyal, there isn't really anything positive to say about him. The historical context of the time and locations was interesting. The ending was extremely abrupt and left me reeling a bit.
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Naipaul was born and raised in Trinidad, to which his grandfathers had emigrated from India as indentured servants. He is known for the wistfully comic early novels of Trinidad, the bleaker novels of a wider world remade by the passage of peoples, and the vigilant chronicles of his life and travels, all written in characteristic, widely admired, prose.

At 17, he won a Trinidad Government scholarshi

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Willie Chandran (2 books)
  • Magic Seeds

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